CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – With the help of a panel of voters from ESPN, The Athletic, AP, Charlotte Observer and the Carolina Panthers Radio Network/WBT, the 7Sports Team has compiled a list of the top ten Carolina Panthers of all time.
Seven reporters from national and local publications/broadcast stations provided their top ten rankings. A tally of all the votes resulted in this final list.
Panel: David Newton (ESPN NFL Nation Panthers Beat Writer), Joe Person (The Athletic Panthers Beat Writer), Steve Reed (The Associated Press Panthers Beat Writer), Scott Fowler (The Charlotte Observer Columnist), Jim Szoke (WBT Radio and Carolina Panthers Radio Network Broadcaster), Pete Yanity (WSPA Sports Director), and Todd Summers (WSPA Sports Reporter/Anchor).
NOTE: All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Reference/All-Pro honors per AP Voting
Without further ado, here are the top ten Panthers of all time.
#10 Christian McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey came to the Panthers as the team’s first-round selection at #8 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. With Jonathan Stewart still in the mix, McCaffrey was relegated to a limited-time role, but made the most of his touches in his rookie season and in 2018 he became the team’s featured runner, rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring 7 touchdowns on the ground. He combined that with 107 catches for 867 yards and an additional 8 touchdowns. He was a dual-threat running back in every sense of the term. And amazingly, he was about to top that performance in year three.
In 2019, McCaffrey continued on his upward trajectory tallying 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with 116 catches and 1,005 yards receiving and four scores. With that, McCaffery became just the third running back in NFL history to reach the one-thousand-yard mark in both rushing and receiving, joining Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig. Pretty good company.
That earned McCaffrey first-team All-Pro honors in just his third season with the team. An injury-riddled 2020 derailed his momentum, but he showed how important he is to the team by scoring six touchdowns in just three games played. Being the youngest on this list, McCaffrey can continue to add to his legacy in Carolina. But as of 2021 the voters already consider McCaffrey as one of the greatest Panthers of all time.
Christian McCaffrey Career Stats
|Pro Bowl||1X (2019)|
1X Second-Team (’18)
#9 Jake Delhomme
After going undrafted in 1997 Delhomme was signed by the New Orleans Saints. He spent a total of two seasons in New Orleans, primarily as a practice squad player, in between stints in NFL Europe. But after the 2002 season, Delhomme decided he wanted a fresh start and a chance at becoming a franchise NFL quarterback. He got his chance with the Panthers.
The Panthers signed Delhomme to compete with incumbent Rodney Peete. But it didn’t take long for him to claim the top spot. At halftime of the 2003 season-opener, the Panthers were trailing 17-0 to the Jacksonville Jaguars and turned to Delhomme for the second half. Behind Delhomme’s three passing touchdowns, Carolina came back to win and the job now belonged to Jake Delhomme. It was just one of eight game-winning drives he engineered that season, including the playoffs.
Delhomme helped lead the Panthers to an 11-5 record that season and a division title. What followed was a spectacular postseason run that included a double-overtime win over the Rams then a dismantling of the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles to advance to the first Super Bowl in franchise history. And although they lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 38, Delhomme played great on the big stage throwing for over three hundred yards and three scores to no interceptions. They never made it back during his tenure, but Delhomme’s performance that season earned him a five-year $42.5 million deal to be the team’s franchise quarterback, cementing his legacy in a Panther uniform.
Jake Delhomme Career Stats
|CATEGORY||WITH CAROLINA (’03-’09)||CAREER|
|Pro Bowl||1X (2005)||1X (2005)|
#8 Jordan Gross
Jordan Gross came to the Panthers as their 8th-overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. He stepped right into the starting lineup and never looked back over the course of the next 11 seasons. Often considered to be the best left tackle in Panthers history, Gross displayed great flexibility along the offensive line. He was just as productive at right tackle, which is where he started his rookie season. It was good enough to earn him a spot on the 2003 All-Rookie Team. He switched between the two positions every now and then, but played the vast majority of snaps at LT from there on out, serving as the primary protector of Jake Delhomme’s blind side as well as Cam Newton’s.
The epitome of reliability, Gross started all but eight games in his career and committed a mere 11 holding penalties. He was a vital part of the Panthers often ranking in the top ten in the league in sacks surrendered during the 2000s, and even got in on the action on occasion as he recovered seven fumbles. A three-time Pro Bowler and 2008 first-team All-Pro, Gross remains one of the greatest to ever put on a Panther uniform.
Jordan Gross Career Accolades
|Pro Bowl||3X (’08, ’10. ’13)|
|All-Pro||1X First-Team (’08)|
#7 Greg Olsen
Greg Olsen was a first-round selection by the Chicago Bears in 2007 and came to the Panthers via a trade in 2011. Carolina gave up a third-round pick for the ‘07 All-Rookie Team selection, which turned out to be an absolute steal for the Panthers. Olsen hadn’t yet entered his prime at the time, and came to the Panthers just as they had acquired quarterback Cam Newton from Auburn. It was perfect timing.
Olsen recorded at least five touchdowns in each of his first five seasons with Carolina. And his best stretch came from 2014-2016 in which he was selected to three-straight Pro Bowls and cleared 1,000 yards receiving each year, becoming the first tight end to achieve such a feat. During his nine seasons with the Panthers, Olsen recorded 524 receptions for 6,463 yards and 39 touchdowns. He was a great safety blanket for Newton, and could stretch the field in ways few at the position could. He sits atop the list of Carolina tight ends and ranks third in team history in catches and yards. On top of that, the recently retired Olsen ranks fifth among all tight ends in NFL history in both yards and receptions.
Greg Olsen Career Stats
|CATEGORY||WITH CAROLINA (’11-’19)||CAREER (’07-’20)|
|Pro Bowl||3X (’14-’16)||3X (’14-’16)|
|All-Pro||2X Second-Team (’15-’16)||2X Second-Team (’15-’16)|
#6 Thomas Davis Sr.
Thomas Davis III entered the NFL as the Carolina Panthers’ 14th-overall selection in the 2005 draft. What followed was more than a decade of consistent, reliable play from the three-time Pro Bowler.
He entered the league as a hybrid safety out of Georgia, but the team quickly realized his potential at linebacker. After a limited role in his rookie season, Davis became a full-time outside linebacker in 2006. His best season, though, came in the 2010s. From 2012 to 2016 Davis recorded at least 100 tackles in each season and had seven interceptions in a two-year span. He was selected to his only three Pro Bowls in succession (‘15-’17). All of this came after he suffered three ACL tears in the same knee from 2009 to 2011. He remains the only player to return from three such injuries to the same knee.
Over the course of his career, Davis formed one of the best linebacker corps in the NFL alongside Luke Kuechly. Davis is the franchise leader in solo tackles with 789 and recorded 18 forced fumbles as well as 13 interceptions. Not only was his impact felt on the field for 13 seasons in Charlotte, but he was beloved in the community as well. He created the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF) which promoted free programs to help thousands of underprivileged youth including back-to-school giveaways, among others. His efforts in giving back earned him the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
|CATEGORY||WITH CAROLINA (’05-’18)||CAREER (’05-PRESENT)|
|Pro Bowl||3X (’15-’17)||3X (’15-’17)|
|All-Pro||1X First-Team (’15)||1X First-Team (’15)|
#5 Sam Mills
As an undrafted player out of Montclair State College, Sam Mills ended up carving out quite a successful career in the NFL. After an initial stint with Cleveland, Mills went on to play in the CFL before returning to the NFL and spending nine successful seasons with the Saints. He ultimately signed with the Panthers as a free agent in their inaugural 1995 season.
Mills endeared himself to Charlotte right out of the gate, sealing the franchise’s first win by intercepting a shovel pass from Jets quarterback Bubby Brister and returning it for a touchdown. Between 1995 and 1997, Mills had some of his best seasons as a pro despite being at the tail end of his career. He recorded a career-high five interceptions in 1995 and was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl in 1996, becoming the oldest player at the time (34) to earn the honor. He was also named a first-team All-Pro selection for the first time in his career that season. He retired from the league following the 1997 season and finished with over 1,200 total tackles.
Although he spent the shortest amount of time with the organization among the players on this list, Mills more than makes up for it with the impact he had on a brand new franchise. And he transitioned to coaching after his playing career, becoming a member of the Panthers staff. His 2005 death following a bout with cancer was a significant emotional blow to the team and its fan base. The man who coined the team’s mantra ‘Keep Pounding,’ Sam Mills is looked at even to this day as the ideal Carolina Panther. His statue stands tall outside of Bank of America Stadium.
Sam Mills Career Stats
|CATEGORY||WITH CAROLINA (’95-’97)||CAREER (’86-’97)|
|Pro Bowl||1X (’96*)||5X (’87, ’88, ’91, ’92, ’96*)|
|All-Pro||1X First-Team (’96)||1X First-Team (’96)|
2X Second-Team (’91-’92)
#4 Luke Kuechly
Luke Kuechly was taken 9th overall by the Panthers in the 2012 NFL Draft. The highly touted all-purpose linebacker out of Boston College became an instant fixture on the team’s defense in his rookie campaign. Kuechly was named the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year after posting a league-leading 164 combined tackles and two interceptions. It was immediately apparent that Kuechly was one of the better players at his position in the NFL, and he continued on that track the following season as he was named the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In ‘13 Kuechly recorded 156 total tackles, four interceptions, and two sacks. That season, the Panthers were the league’s second-best defense in points per game and total yards allowed with Kuechly serving as the anchor and leader of the unit.
In just eight seasons Kuechly made seven pro bowls, was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection, hauled in 18 interceptions and tallied over one thousand total tackles. Though his career was ultimately a short one due to his retirement after the 2019 season Kuechly made an indelible mark on the franchise, was among the league’s greatest linebackers during his entire tenure, and ends his career with hall of fame credentials.
Luke Kuechly Career Stats
|Pro Bowl||7X (’13*-’19)|
|All-Pro||5X First-Team (’13*-’15, ’17-’18) |
2X Second-Team (’16, ’19)
#3 Cam Newton
Cam Newton was selected by the Panthers first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. The expectation was that the Auburn product would become a franchise quarterback for years to come, and would lead the team to the Super Bowl. In his rookie season Newton was selected to the Pro Bowl and earned ‘Rookie of the Year’ honors, completing 60% of his passes for over 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Panthers finished just 6-10, but it was apparent they had an emerging talent under center. His most accomplished season came in 2015 as he led Carolina to a 15-1 record and an appearance in Super Bowl 50, the team’s second ever appearance in the big game and first since 2003. That year, Newton won the NFL MVP Award as he combined for 45 total touchdowns. The Panthers lost to Denver, however, 24-10 on the big stage.
From 2011-2019 Newton threw 182 touchdowns and ran for another 58 scores. He passed for over 29,000 yards and totaled nearly 5,000 yards rushing, establishing himself as one of the best dual threat quarterbacks of his generation, perhaps all time. He holds several franchise records to go along with his accolades. The three-time pro bowler went 68-55-1 during his time in Carolina before signing with the New England Patriots ahead of the 2020 season. Because of his individual accomplishments, his overall impact on the sport and the organization, as well as his ability to lead the team to another Super Bowl, Newton goes down as one of the greatest to ever suit up for the Panthers.
Cam Newton Career Stats
|CATEGORY||WITH CAROLINA (’11-’19)||CAREER (’11-PRESENT)|
|Pro Bowl||3X (’11, ’13, ’15)||3X (’11, ’13, ’15)|
|All Pro||1X (’15)*||1X (’15)*|
#2 Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers was taken by the Panthers with the second-overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Like many on this list, Peppers’ transition to the NFL was seamless. He recorded 12 sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception in just twelve games played in his rookie season. It was good enough to earn him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. A remarkable combination of size, speed and athleticism, Peppers went on to make the Pro Bowl five times in his final six seasons with the Panthers (‘04-’09) before signing elsewhere.
Peppers signed with Chicago as a free agent prior to the 2010 season and played seven seasons with the Bears and Packers before returning to Carolina for the 2017-2018 seasons. In total he played 154 games in ten seasons with Carolina, recording 97 sacks, 107 tackles for loss, and 34 forced fumbles. He was a two-time first-team All-Pro during his time in Charlotte, and is the franchise leader in career sacks with 29.5 more than the next player on the list (Charles Johnson).
Given all of his accomplishments and years of dominance at the position, Peppers will undoubtedly have his bust in Canton. He’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade Team for both the 2000s and 2010s.
Julius Peppers Career Stats
|CATEGORY||WITH CAROLINA (’02-’09, ’17-’18)||CAREER (’02-’18)|
|Tackles for loss||107||175|
|Pro Bowl||5X (’04-’06, ’08-’09)||9X (’04-’06, ’08-’12, ’15)|
|All-Pro||2X First-Team (’04, ’06,) |
2X Second-Team (’08-’09)
|3X First-Team (’04, ’06, ’10) |
3X Second-Team (’08-’09, ’12)
#1 Steve Smith
Steve Smith was taken in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft as the 74th-overall selection by the Carolina Panthers. That pick turned out to be one of the best steals of the draft. Seldom used as a receiver in his rookie season, Smith was utilized primarily as a return specialist and excelled in that area. He scored twice on kickoff returns and once on a punt return earning him a spot on the 2001 All-Rookie Team and in the Pro Bowl.
After his rookie campaign he took on an expanded role as a receiver and never looked back. He had his first one-thousand-yard season in 2003 as the Panthers advanced all the way to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. After breaking his leg in the 2004 season-opener, Smith had his best statistical season the following year, rebounding with a stellar 103-1563-12 line and leading the NFL in all three categories.
After 13 seasons with the Panthers, Smith spent his final three years in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens before retiring after the 2016 season. He finished his career as the Panthers all-time leading receiver in catches, yards and touchdowns. As of 2021, he ranks 12th in NFL history with 1,031 receptions and 8th in receiving yards with 14,731. He is a five-time pro bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro.
|CATEGORY||WITH CAROLINA (’01-’13)||CAREER (’01-’16)|
|Pro Bowl||5X (’01, ’05, ’06, ’08, ’11)||5X (’01, ’05, ’06, ’08, ’11)|
|All-Pro||2X First-Team (’01, ’05) |
1X Second-Team (’08)
|2X First-Team (’01, ’05) |
1X Second-Team (’08)
Full List (Each player’s point total is out of 70 possible points)
|#1: Steve Smith (63)|
|#2: Julius Peppers (59)|
|#3: Cam Newton (58)|
|#4: Luke Kuechly (57)|
|#5: Sam Mills (31)|
|#6: Thomas Davis Sr. (27)|
|#7: Greg Olsen (23)|
|#8: Jordan Gross (17)|
|#9: Jake Delhomme (13)|
|#10: Christian McCaffrey (12)|
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